Una Fiesta Nacional

With no small dose of irony, this week sees Spain’s National Day coincide with a constitutional crisis that could lead to its disintegration. While Catalonia contemplates and attempts to negotiate its (suspended) path towards independence, the flag waving nationalists of Castilla will line El Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid to cheer a military parade organised by the Ministry of Defence. This celebration needs updating as a small step towards healing a Spain society that is fracturing.

It is time to rethink the way in which Spain celebrates its nationhood. Spain has its opportunity to celebrate the achievements of their armed forces on their “Dia de las Fuerzas Armadas”. The laser-guided focus on celebrating the hung-over militarism of the Franco regime excludes the sentiments of at least 70% of the Spanish population.

Spain needs to move a way from anachronistic nationalism towards an inclusive celebration of what a great country this is.

Since its inception in 1913, the 12th October has been observed to a greater or lesser degree across Spain and Latin America as the day of the hispanic race; “El dia de la Raza”, “Dia de la Hispanidad”, or “la Fiesta Nacional”. More recently it has been re-cast in many South American countries to recognise the genocidal inflection point that was Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. Many South American countries seem to be abandoning their celebration of “Hispanidad” in favour of celebrating days of Indigenous Resistance or Respect for Cultural Differences.

As a (still) british citizen, I find it strange, we don’t have a day to celebrate our nation like the Spanish, much less one to celebrate our “race”. The Scots show their pride in Rabbie Burns, and the English do pomp, when a royal gets married or a Tory prime minister dies. But we would feel uncomfortable with some kind of military celebration as the centre-piece of being British.

No so in Spain, where the parades continue. Forty years after the death of Franco, and two generations into democracy, the celebration of Spanishness is still stuck on a military parade. Battalions of soldiers representing regiments that marched with Franco in his Coup d’Etat in 1936 goose-step along the Castellana, flown over by military aircraft. The only significant change has been the elimination of the tank battalions, through cost cutting in deference to the economic crisis rather than any significant apreciation of its ridiculousness.

Surely there could be a more accurate and inclusive celebration of Spanish life? Surely we could celebrate the diversity of spanish culture and history. A carnival of floats celebrating the infinite diversity of this fascinating country. Here is a quick starter list:

  • Herds of Iberian pigs, and Mountain Goats.
  • School children Enacting scenes from El Quijote, El Cid.
  • Castels
  • Fine Wines
  • Fallas firework displays
  • Carnivals from Cádiz, Canarias
  • Embutidos
  • Flamenco cantaores and balaores, with their rock, jazz & hip-hop fusions
  • Demonstrations of World beating Sportsmen and Women.
  • Cheeses
  • Pride floats celebrating that Spain was one of the first countries to recogise marriage equality.
  • Celebrations of the cultures of bulls, horses and hunting.

And that is just some of the “traditional” Spanish memes. Space should be made to welcome the contribution and influence made by the immigrants and tourists from across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas who have shaped the way Spain is today and who are shaping the culture as it progresses.

That would be a true Fiesta Nacional.

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